ABC News’ Mikaela Conley reports:
Vinegar is known for its versatility around the house, but now it’s gaining a reputation for a much more powerful benefit: Its ability to find precancerous lesions in the cervix and potentially save thousands of women’s lives.
The New York Times reported that screening with household vinegar has become a staple practice in many ob-gyn offices across Thailand, and several pilot programs have been set up in developing countries. The procedure is simple: A nurse brushes a woman’s cervix with vinegar, and the solution makes precancerous spots turn white. If spots appear, they can immediately be frozen off. The inexpensive procedure yields results similar to those of a Pap smear screening in which a doctor scrapes cells from the inner walls of the cervix, which are then examined by a pathologist.
Much like the Pap smear did in the West, the vinegar procedure, known as a visual inspection of acetic acid, is changing the face of cervical cancer in poor and middle-income countries. In the early 1900s, cervical cancer was the No. 1 cancer killer in American women, but now it comes in far behind other cancers.
Medical professionals in low-income areas, where cervical cancer remains the No. 1 or 2 cancer killer in women, hope household vinegar will lower cervical cancer diagnoses and deaths, just as the Pap smear did.
“This is a lifesaving procedure for many women in developing regions of the world because the precancerous lesions, which are immediate precursors to cervical cancer, can be treated before they progress,” Dr. Mark Einstein, director of clinical research in the department of gynecologic oncology at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., told ABCNews.com. ”The issue is the limited infrastructure and adequately trained personnel in some of these regions.”
“This been used in areas such as China, other parts of Southeast Asia and Africa where cervical cancer burden is high but access to care is low,” Dr. Matthew Anderson, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told ABCNews.com. “Overall, rates of cervical cancer are increasing worldwide, largely due to the lack of availability of preventive health services such as Pap smears, and more importantly, the type of staged interventions we use here in the U.S.”
Cervical cancer is diagnosed in about 400,000 women in developing countries without Pap screening, and 80,000 women per year in countries with Pap screening, Dr. Diane Harper, director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Research Group at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, told ABCNews.com.
But using vinegar to detect cancer comes with a few words of caution.
“Given the choice of no screening at all, and having this done once in a lifetime at the age of 35 years … is preferable,” said Harper. “This is not a procedure that has any validity to repeating multiple times for a woman or doing for a young woman who is still in childbearing years. The sensitivity and specificity are very poor for repeat procedures.”
Anderson emphasized that the procedure is not a treatment for cervical cancer, only a specific way to screen.
“It’s not the vinegar that is treating the problem and could falsely lead women to think that if they somehow douche with vinegar, they are not going to get cervix cancer,” said Anderson. “Although I don’t think this has ever been directly tested as a treatment, I doubt nothing could be further from the truth.”
“The bottom line is cervical cancer can be prevented in most women,” said Einstein. “So any screening is better than no screening.”